An article in the Guardian cites the concerns of doctors that some of the drugs being stockpiled by states, including Arkansas, for lethal use in capital cases, are in short supply and as a result are less available for therapeutic use.
The article is based on information gathered by Emory University anesthesiologist Dr. Joel Zivot, though no link to the study was provided. From the Guardian:
The study looks at just four of America’s 31 states that still adhere to capital punishment and finds that they are hoarding sufficient stashes of medicines to treat 11,257 patients in surgeries and other possibly life-or-death procedures, for executions. Were the findings from Arkansas, Arizona, Mississippi and Virginia extrapolated to the rest of the country, the number of operations that could be supported by the drugs would reach into the tens of thousands.
One of the drugs in shortage, vecuronium bromide, is one that Arkansas plans to use tonight. A circuit court stay was issued yesterday in response to a complaint by the supplier of the drug, McKesson Medical-Surgical, which does not want it used to kill and maintains the state obtained the drug under false pretenses, saying it would use the drug in a clinical setting, not as part of the Department of Correction’s three-drug killing procedure. The state Supreme Court overturned the stay today. Ledell Lee is scheduled to die at 7 p.m. Stacey Johnson had been scheduled to be executed tonight, but the state Supreme Court granted a stay and remanded the case back to circuit court so it could take up the issue of DNA testing.
In an interview today, Zivot stressed he was “not taking a position on capital punishment,” but on what he called the “medicalization” of execution. States do not need to use drugs to execute people, he said. “Not only does it not need it,” Zivot added, “it doesn’t work the way the state imagines, or claims, it does.”
Zivot and others he worked with concluded that Arkansas’s stockpile of midazolam, vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride could be used to threat 1,800 patients “in potentially life-saving operations.” He extrapolated the number of patients by using the dosages the state uses of each drug — 500 milligrams of midazolam, for example — to kill eight inmates. The state could have more drugs stockpiled, of course.
The three-drug protocol also calls for the use of 100 mg of vecuronium bromide and 240 mEq (equivalent) potassium chloride.
Zivot noted that drug shortages are not uncommon, and he does not complain if he can’t get a drug that someone else has and is using as a medicine. “But if I don’t have [a needed drug] and someone else does and it’s being used for execution, then I am concerned about that.”